4One of the first things other academics ask me is “why are you interested in toilets?”

For the vast majority of people, the biological function of waste excretion is an after thought, an activity that nobody wants to talk about, and often times, the mere thought of talking about shit grosses them out. I, however, am fascinated by the human and political dimensions of human waste and the challenges that solving the global sanitation crisis presents. More than excrement itself, I’m interested in a holistic view of sanitation (waste disposal, transportation, removal, treatment and reuse). This interest stems primarily from my training as a chemical engineer, my work experience as a sanitation engineer and researcher, and my interest from my doctoral studies in understanding the politics of policy intervention.

Contrary to what one might think, toilets are political. Owning a toilet will become a necessary prerequisite for politicians to run for office in Gujarat, India. The new Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, has made ending open defecation and increasing access to toilets one of his campaign promises and a crucial component of his political and public policy agenda. Modi’s “toilets first, temples later” has been seen as a strong statement in favor of increasing toilet and latrine access in India.

In my own work I have emphasized that even if we have the technical capabilities to increase access to toilets, latrines and sanitation infrastructure, often times we see lack of progress because institutional, cultural, behavioral and societal barriers have been erected through time. I have shown that the behavioral determinants of sanitation governance are complex and multicausal, and also have multiple effects. Not having a toilet in your own home or easily accessible can lead to violence and physical/sexual assault. Lack of toilets affects women disproportionately and leaves them vulnerable to physical violence. Earlier this year I wrote about the complex linkages between menstrual hygiene management, access to toilets, and violence against women.

To end open defecation and increase sanitation access, we need a set of policy strategies that aren’t solely focused (individually) on cultural practices, or access to latrines, or poverty alleviation. All these factors must be tackled simultaneously.

World Toilet Day takes place on November 19th. This year finally the United Nations named World Toilet Day an official UN day, although for all the noise it has been making, we are WAY behind the target for the Millennium Development Goals. If we really want to end open defecation by 2025, as the UN indicates, we are definitely going to need a better approach. In my own research, I have found that institution- and routine-based strategies help increase access to sanitation. I have also argued that access to toilets can be used as a political manipulation strategy. We should be interested in the global politics of sanitation because the crisis is far-reaching and widespread.

Today, I encourage you to reflect on the fact that over 1 billion people defecate in the open because they lack the dignity of a toilet, and that 2.6 billion people don’t have access to improved water and sanitation sources.

Think about it. It IS political. Because we can’t wait to solve the global sanitation crisis.

Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD is a professor of Resource Management and Environmental Studies with a specialty in the global politics of sanitation. You can follow him at raulpacheco.org, where this post originally appeared, and on Twitter and Facebook.

On Valentine’s day last year, my Facebook feed exploded with Pakistani memes that, on the one hand, used Islamic texts to criticize the day as unIslamic and, on the other, poked fun at the religious opposition to the holiday.
1 6a00d83451e32769e2017c37de69e8970b-800wi
When I conducted interviews with Pakistani women in Karachi over the summer, I expected Valentine’s day to be a salient event for my participants.  I did find religious resistance to Valentine’s Day.  The more religious-minded participants  were likely to say things like: “St. Valentine is remembered for fathering illegitimate children, so the day is sinful.”

Less religious women, however, seemed surprised that I even asked about it.  “I can’t remember what I did,” they would say, or they would criticize it as “cheesy” or  “too commercial.” A few respondents asked: “Why does there have to be one day for love? Every day should be a celebration of love.”

Based on the media, I was expecting a contest between people who embraced Valentine’s Day and people who rejected it, but I only found one side of the debate: the rejection.  There didn’t seem to be a large group of women who embraced it. Among those who didn’t outright reject it, I discovered only disinterest.

All this suggests that the push to make Valentine’s Day a thing in Pakistan is more about capitalism and the globalization of Western norms and practices, than it is about a grassroots desire for such a celebration.  It is the marketers, mall managers, and restaurant owners that seem most interested in Valentine’s Day.  I originally thought of this as a battle between the religious and secular members of the society, but it seems to be, instead, a resistance by some to efforts of companies to find one more way to make money.

Fauzia Husain is a PhD student in sociology at the University of Virginia.  She is currently studying globalization through an exploration of Pakistani women’s narratives about love.

The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project recently released data on attitudes about homosexuality in 39 countries. Generally, those living in the Middle East and Africa were the least accepting, while those in the Americas, Europe, and parts of Asia (the Philippines, Australia, and to a lesser extent Japan) were most accepting:


Generally, the more religious a country, the less accepting its citizens are of homosexuality:


The proportion of people who support social acceptance of gays and lesbians ranged from a high of 88% in Spain to a low of 1% in Nigeria:


Attitudes about homosexuality vary widely by age. There is a pretty consistent global pattern of more positive attitudes among younger people, with a few exceptions:


Thus far, legalization of same-sex marriage has been largely confined to the Americas and Europe; New Zealand and South Africa are the two outliers:


The Pew Center points out that of the 15 nations that have fully extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, 8 have done so just since 2010. In the U.S., we’re currently awaiting a Supreme Court’s decision, which should arrive shortly, to know if we’ll be joining the list sooner rather than later.

Thanks to Peter Nardi at Pitzer College for the link!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

1The phrase “social construction” refers to the fact that things, symbols, places, sounds — basically everything — is devoid of meaning until we, collectively, agree as to what something means.  Once that happens, it has been “socially constructed” and we can refer to it as a “social construct.”

The fact that gestures have any meaning at all, and that they can have different meanings in different places, is a simple example of this basic sociological concept.  Enjoy this one minute compilation of examples!

Via Blame It On The Voices.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Reports from the Economic Front.

The Pew Research Center recently published a report titled “Pervasive Gloom About the World Economy.” The following two charts come from Chapter 4 which is called “The Causalities: Faith in Hard Work and Capitalism.”

The first suggests that the belief that hard work pays off remains strong in only a few countries: Pakistan (81%), the U.S. (77%), Tunisia (73%), Brazil (69%), India (67%) and Mexico (65%). The low scores in China, Germany, and Japan are worth noting. This is not to say that people everywhere are not working hard, just that many no longer believe there is a strong connection between their effort and outcome.

The second chart highlights the fact that growing numbers of people are losing faith in free market capitalism.  Despite mainstream claims that “there is no alternative,” a high percentage of people in many countries do not believe that the free market system makes people better off.

GlobeScan polled more than 12,000 adults across 23 countries about their attitudes towards economic inequality and, as the chart below reveals, the results were remarkably similar to those highlighted above.  In fact, as GlobeScan noted, “In 12 countries over 50% of people said they did not believe that the rich deserved their wealth.

It certainly seems that large numbers of people in many different countries are open to new ways of organizing economic activity.

Martin Hart-Landsberg is a professor of economics at Lewis and Clark College. You can follow him at Reports from the Economic Front.

Dmitriy T.M. sent in an interesting discussion of tax collection in Pakistan by the New York Times.   The narrator argues that rich Pakistanis, among others, do not pay taxes, forcing the government to rely on foreign aid.  Essentially, then, it is argued, “[t]he American taxpayer is subsidizing the Pakistani rich.”   Since the politicians are rich themselves, and happily evading taxes, there is little will to change the system.

One solution? Send in a team of transgender people to embarass homeowners into paying their property taxes, of course!

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Dimitriy T.M. and Keith Marszalek sent in a video by Isao Hashimoto, posted at Wired. The video, titled 1945-1998, shows the location of all known nuclear tests during that period, as well as the nation conducting the tests. It starts off slowly (with the U.S. test during World War II and the two bombs dropped on Japan), and the U.S. has a monopoly on nuclear weapons for several years. By the early 1950s the number of tests starts to increase and the U.K. and Soviet Union start testing. By the late 1’50s and through the ’80s, the flashes indicating tests (with different sound effects to indicate different nation) are pretty much constant, and then drop off quite a lot by the ’90s.

The Wired article points out that there have been two more nuclear tests since 1998 (when the video ends), both by North Korea.

I found this graph over at the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization website:

Broken down by type of test; since 1963 almost all testing has been underground:

They also have an interactive map that includes information such as who has signed the test-ban treaty, where tests have occurred, and locations of facilities under the international monitoring system. Here’s a map showing the status of the test-ban treaty; green nations have ratified it, light blue ones have signed but not ratified it, and red ones haven’t signed it (sorry I couldn’t quite fit the whole map on my screen at once, so the screenshot cuts off some areas):

These pictures of people remembering Michael Jackson demonstrate the globalization of American culture:

Hollywood, California, USA


Hong Kong


Paris, France


Karachi, Pakistan


Tokyo, Japan



Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.